A woman in a silver leotard, firing a bow and arrow with her feet! Very fit, slightly camp young men jumping on to seesaws and landing on each others’ shoulders! A smiling girl whirling around a ribbon high above our heads – with no safety net! And best of all, my kids, staring absolutely AGOG in wonder!
For the first time in more than 20 years, Jay Miller’s Circus is coming to Lewes. And it’s coming THIS WEEKEND: Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 June. I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact, we couldn’t wait and have already seen it (in Uckfield during half term, hence my knowledge of the acts). We’ve been every year for the last three or four. I absolutely love it.
Circuses are different from when we were kids. My friend Rachel, who came with us to Uckfield, reminisced about one she was taken to in the 1970s, aged two, in which a lion cub was placed on her lap. You wouldn’t get that past health and safety now. And in fact, Jay Miller’s Circus is an animal-free zone (though brilliantly, one person doesn’t think so*).
It’s a family affair, with acts from all the Miller girls (no relation, alas, much as I’d love to have learned to dangle from a wire by my toes while rocking a spangled bikini). There’s a clown, but coulrophobics needn’t worry, he looks less like what you fear and more like a scruffy French waiter.
In the interests of completeness I ought to say that not everything is wonderful, though I personally love it all: the cheesy dance numbers, the slightly inept juggling and a ringmaster whose patter was elderly when P.T. Barnum was a boy. But much of it is jaw-dropping. There are astonishing acrobatics and graceful somersaulting and hire-wire stuff, and you’re close enough to it all to actually see the performers’ sinews straining.
There’s popcorn and candy floss in the interval, and a ton of ways that the kids can spend your money: face-painting, plates to spin, flashing light things that will stop working just as you get home. But I don’t begrudge the circus for trying to rustle a little hustle. For a start, everything’s reasonably priced. And secondly, they clearly work their butts off putting on the show. The ticket prices – between £10 and £20 – are fair, but we’ve never paid full price. There are always half-price vouchers in shops or local papers, and if you can’t find one, there are shows where every seat is £6.50. On the website you can fill out a voucher to get a kid in free with a full-paying adult.
My favourite act, which left me, Rachel (the lion-cub cuddler) and our kids absolutely wide-eyed, was a couple, somewhat past the first flush of youth, who performed numerous changes of outfits in the blink of an eye. Then, for the finale, the man held up an umbrella and the woman stepped under it and… No. I’m not going to spoil it. We sat there for several minutes afterwards, all of us staring at the space where the magic had happened.HOW HAD THEY DONE THAT?!
Go see it. And if you can work out how indeed, please tell me.
BETH’S TOP TIPS FOR SEEING JAY MILLER’S CIRCUS:
- Don’t pay full-price. Get a voucher or go to the cheap seats show (in Lewes it’s at 11am on Sunday 14).
- Don’t bother with the expensive ringside seats. You’ll get sprayed with water and dragged into the ring by Pepé the scruffy French waiter-clown. The best bet are the centre tier seats. Also, try and sit in one of the rows that has backs to the seats.
- Let your kids go to the snack bar during the interval to buy an ice or candy floss. That way they have less time to nag you to buy other things.
- If you drop something through the slats below your feet (from experience, Crocs are most likely, followed by water bottles), you can easily nip round the back of the seats and retrieve it.
- There are loos outside the big top.
* According to a brilliant story in the Sussex Express, one kid came back from the circus and told his grandma that the best bit was the dancing polar bear. Granny was convinced that it was a real bear (there is no danger of thinking this if you actually see it) and has made several complaints. It’s worth reading the story here – a classic of local journalism with at least one superb pun – but the real mystery is why that kid thought it was the best act. It was the worst by far, and I highly recommend that you spend its duration checking your phone.
Show location: Malling Recreation Ground, Lewes, BN7 2FZ
2015 dates + times: Sat 13 June, 3pm + 6pm; Sun 14 June, 11am (all tickets £6.50), 2pm + 5pm
Tel no. (booking): 07976 655 180
Beth is a novelist, journalist and writing teacher. Her first novel, ‘When We Were Sisters‘, is out now, published by Ebury. Her second, ‘The Good Neighbour‘, will be out this autumn, as will her non-fiction book, ‘For the Love of The Archers’.
Beth runs one-day writing courses in Lewes – ‘Kick-start Your Novel’ is upcoming on 11 July. And in September her popular ‘Get Going On Your Book’ course starts again.
Find out more at bethmiller.co.uk
Disclosure: Beth contacted me about her love of Jay Miller’s Circus and asked whether I’d be interested in a guest post. Yes please! So here it is. No compensation, financial or otherwise, was offered or accepted by either of us for the writing of this post.
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